Sunday, April 30, 2017

144 Buttons on the Wall: Probably Not a Pillow

Last year, I went through an intensive square period, cutting hundreds of little squares from solids or batiks, stitching them together, then (sometimes) adding embellishments. One of the pieces that came out of it is this.

Those are one inch squares. It's a wallhanging, but it could also serve as one of the world's most uncomfortable pillows. Another benefit: It cleared out much-needed space in my overflowing button boxes.

It started, as usual, like a game of solitaire. I made stacks of 1.5" batik scrap squares, then sorted them into color families, around the outside of a piece of posterboard. Then I started dealing squares from the piles to the center of the board.

Moving outward in concentric squares, I ran up and down color and value scales.
When I liked the arrangement, I gingerly carried my posterboard (don't trip!) to the sewing machine, and speed-pieced everything in position. Here's the top all sewn together: 
I added backing, batting, and did a simple pillowcase finish. Next I quilted in concentric squares, not quite in the ditch (next to the ditch?), with thick embroidery thread. 
All quilted. 
And then I sewed on a slew of buttons! Transparent buttons run all the way around the outer border, and colorful buttons are inside.
The middle of the middle: 
Earlier adventures with squares, include 25-36 piece small gifts; 24-scrap postcards, a heavily embellished 10" 100-square backwards wallhanging; and an indescribable 153-square backwards wallhanging. It's hip to be square! (I just wanted an excuse to write that!)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Curvy, Modern, Red, Improv Scrap Quilt

Here's a scrappy, wonky and smallish (34" x 42") modern-ish quilt that I finished last year. 
Yeah, that bottom edge. Ummmm....I'm not sure how that happened. Probably because the project was pure sewing therapy.

It all started with a pile of  Japanesque scraps leftover from a huge project. I cut them into strips, then freehand cut improvisational curves. Next, I sewed the strips together horizontally. Here's the basic idea from a similar project with floral prints: 
(Pretend they're Japanese-ish.) Next I cut out tall vertical rectangles from the horizontal strip sets, and surrounded them with a solid fabric, either yellow, blue, or white.  
I cut the outer edges of the frames into more improvisational curves.
And then made a larger solid blue sashing across the top and down the left hand edge of the blocks. 
If you haven't tried freehand cutting curves, it's easier than it looks, and adapts itself to many different kind of quilts - art, modern, baby, etc. It was pioneered in the early 1980s by Canadian quilter Marilyn Stewart Stoller (who wrote about it on her website, here.) She taught it to many others, including legendary quilter Nancy Crow. From there it spread, Alison Schwabe, Ricky Tims, Debbie Bowles, and the improvisational and modern quilt movements popularized it. Bowles'  book Cutting Curves from Straight Pieces was my launch pad for this quilt. (No financial affiliation, but this is a terrific book, especially for beginners).

A couple of years ago, I wrote up a tutorial about freehand curve cutting and sewing, but here is a simplified version of the highlights. First, line up your strips in the order you want them. They should be at least 2.5" high (imho), and bigger is easier.

Place the first two strips together on your cutting board....

And overlap the top of the lowest strip with the bottom of the upper strip by at least an inch. Cut a gentle wave through both layers. (If you're only cutting through one layer at any point, you're doing it wrong.)

Move them apart. Discard the narrow slivers created by the curves. Bring the main pieces to the sewing machine, offset the tops slightly, and start stitching. Go slowly, and keep adjusting the strips as you go to bring the right raw edges together. 

Your seam allowance will often be less than 1/4", and that's okay. Consistency isn't as important as it is for straight-line stitching. 
Press well to eliminate bumps. 

Once the first unit is created, add more strips the same way. 

Now you have a strip set to play with. So much fun! 
I did some improvisational quilting, with (left to right) feathers, leaf veins, different feathers, and diamond eyeballs. 
Want more detailed directions for improvisational curves?
- Brilliant Australian art quilter Alison Schwabe, who learned the technique from Nancy Crow, blogged excellent instructions here. She has a free 2-page guide on getting started which she will be happy to send to whoever asks for it. "With practice," she wrote me, "one can achieve some quite pronounced freehand curved piecing, not just gentle wavy strips." Examples are in her Colour Memories gallery, here.  Contact her at Alison(dot)schwabe(at)gmail(dot) if you want her guide,  or through her website, here.
- A helpful video from Ricky Tims, is here.
- Nina Marie Sayre's excellent tutorial is here.
-  Debbie Bowles' tutorial is here onYoutube.
- My blog post about an all-denim quilt I made this way, back in 2014, with a detailed tutorial, is  here.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Play Ball, with Paper Pieced Polyhedra for Spring!

Last week I showed off some English Paper Pieced (EPP) star quilt blocks. The basic idea is to baste fabric around a cardstock shape, then hand-sew shapes together, to make a quilt block.

But EPP can also be used to make 3-D objects. And with baseball season, Passover and Easter upon us, this is a perfect time to make festive fabric balls. The first one is a fun novelty fabric ball - technically a dodecahedron, made up of 12 pentagons.

And the second is a light, fluffy, high fiber matzoh ball, aka truncated octahedron, made from 8 hexagons and 6 squares.
The patterns didn't come from a sewing book. They came from a website called "Paper Models of Polyhedra." I've loved polyhedra since I was in high school, when I earned my sole "A" in math class for constructing a half-dozen of them from balsa wood. I especailly harbor a soft spot for stellated icosahedra

The Paper Models site's author, Gijs Korthals Altes, is a very generous Dutch person, whose free patterns are designed for paper folding and gluing, but can easily be adapted to EPP. In these two tutorials, I'll show you how I did it with my new EPP skills. 


First, print out Saltes' regular size dodecadron pattern. Start on this page.  Scroll down, under the pictures, to the link that says "dodecahedron (.PDF)". Click there.

You only need to print out page 1 of the 3-page document. But you should print out two copies of p.1. The first copy, you can print onto regular paper - that will be your map. Print the second copy of page 1 onto cardstock. That page holds the actual templates.

Number the pieces in both copies identically. It doesn't matter which piece gets which number - the numbers are just there for your reference, so you know you're putting the configuration together correctly. You don't have to use my numbering order, but you can if you want to.
Cut out the cardstock form, cutting away all those narrow tabs, designed for gluing paper models. With EPP, we don't need them. Below is the entire form cut out, with tabs removed. (Pretend they're numbered.)
Cut that form down into its individual pentagons.
Punch a hole inside each template, to make removal easier.  Hold up each template up to a small scale novelty fabric. Cut at least 3/8th" around each. 
 Then, using either glue or thread, baste the novelty fabric around the pentagon backing. The number you wrote on the template should show from the back.
Use a needle and thread to make large basting stitches; or, use a temporary glue stick and iron to press the edges inward, gluing at the corners. The glue stick method is MUCH faster.
Baste all 12. 
Now, following the map, hold 2 pieces right sides together,
...and stitch the edges together with a tiny whip stitch. 
I knotted at the beginning and end of each line, using a discreet knotting technique I learned from my EPP Bible, Diane Gilleland's fantastic book, All Points Patchwork: English Paper Piecing Beyond the Hexagon for Quilts and Small Projects. I HIGHLY recommend this book to answer any and all questions you may have about EPP. It's full of terrific tips and insights, and has its own dodecahedron pattern. 
Before long, I had constructed Althes' formation. 
The back. Don't remove the templates yet!
From here, the project comes together organically. Starting from the central piece, sew outward, one seam at a time, right sides together, squashing the balls to align the edges you need. In the early phases, I try to work outward from finished intersections. 

 Once all but two sides are sewn up, remove the paper templates.
Turn right side out. 
 Stuff it good.
(Star Trek is appropriate for all spring holidays.)  Close the opening with small whip stitches or a ladder stitch, and voila! 
 It's a unique present for a baby, child or adult who loves Kirk and/or Spock, Little Red Riding Hood...
 ... pandas....
... Franklin Delano Roosevelt...
...and, of course, Nintendo.
Because I didn't use glue, the paper templates were in fairly good shape after I pulled them out. I ironed them after I took this picture, and all but one were reusable.
So I reused them, to make a second dodecadron, this one from necktie silks. What fun! 


Empowered by my dodecadron, I decided to try something a little more complex, but still not insane. (Stellations will have to wait.) After reviewing many of Altes' patterns, I decided to go for his truncated octahedron. It's made up of 8 hexagons and 6 squares.

Because this shape is more complicated and involves multiple shapes, it's even more important to have a map. I started out by printing out onto regular paper, full size, the PDF pattern that can be found on this page. Click the first link below the color photos. (The larger version in the second link was far bigger than I wanted.) It opens up to something that looks like this: 
There are fourteen pieces. I numbered them. But printed out full size, as above, the squares in the pattern were barely an inch, too small for my skills. So I increased the size 150% in my graphic program. It wound up requiring two pages to fit all the pieces. 

I printed the two pages of enlargements onto cardstock, then carefully numbered them in the exact same order as my original map. Again, it's not the order of the numbers that's important, it's just being able to find your place as you join pieces. Here's page 1 of my enlarged cardstock patterns: 
And page two:
On the second sheet, there were some repeated shapes from sheet one, so I crossed out the duplicates. (They can serve as extras in case of emergency). 

I cut out all the shapes that weren't crossed out, eliminating all the tabs, then used them to cut out fabrics, at least 3/8" from the template edges. 
The matzoh fabric, purchased from, is on a medium-weight canvas, so I decided that instead of stitch-basting them to the templates, I would glue-stick them in the corners, at the ironing board, to set the glue quickly and make sharp creases.
Once the pieces were basted to fabric, I arranged them in the same configuration as in Korthes' map. Then, I whipstitched the edges together. I tried to check placement against my map with each new addition, but still managed to sew a couple of them in the wrong places, and then had to unsew them. I made a knot at the end of each line.

Once the map is constructed, the piece starts folding in on itself, making it obvious which seam to sew next. For as long as possible, I tried to work my way out of intersections, into open space, rather than the reverse.
See how, below I'm sewing up from the bottom left to an intersection at the bottom of the blue square? Once I reach it, I'll continue forward and upward along the blue square edge, rather than coming at that open edge by starting on the right and going down into it.

 But at some point, you do have to start stitching into finished vertices.
When I only had two empty sides left, I removed the templates. 
It's so much floppier without the templates! I am thinking I would like to figure out some kind of washable template (thick fusible interfacing?) to leave in, so the shape remains distinct. 
 With two sides unsewn, I turned it right side out.
 Use a finger or chopstick to push those indented square corners outwards.

Almost finished...
To close the hole, I pinched the edges together and did a tiny ladder stitch through the layers.
 Ta daaa.
Interesting shape, no? I think it looks like a bear's head. Or maybe an antelope's head. Something with a snout. Maybe it needs antlers?
Or maybe it just needs an Elijah's cup!
The children in your family can literally have a (matzoh) ball this Passover!

Interested in more Judaic needlework projects? Consider joining the national Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework! Learn about this wonderful non-profit organization here

UPDATE: Here's another nice site with paper patterns for polyhedra:

Originally published 4-7-17